The first adventure pack for the Against the Shadow cycle, the Steward’s Fear is quite a unique quest. In this one, you are attempting to uncover a secret plot within Minas Tirith. This means, you get to randomly select a Plot and a Villain, and there’s a unique Underworld deck to sift through as you explore locations. It’s a cool setup, if a bit fiddly, but it does provide a pretty unique experience, and a nice bit of tension with each play! Due to the nature of the plots and villains, I have to tailor a deck to be prepared for all three possibilities, or combinations of them!
I went through testing for this quest with Leadership Aragorn, and tried over and over, and something about it just wasn’t working. I settled on Lore Aragorn, which helps provide more natural card draw access. However, in the end, his ability to reset my threat is the main factor. One of the plots, Poisoned Counsels, raises your threat by 2 at the end of every round. Also, one of the enemies, Daughter of Beruthiel, also has a threat raising effect. These two combined can be absolutely nightmarish. Not to mention, since you have to explore locations to advance, the game could potentially drag on too long.
Because Aragorn is working in service of the steward in this quest (for my narrative, Ecthelion II), I wanted to provide him a lot of attachments that place him within the Gondor theme. So, he is going to receive the Steward of Gondor, as a way to represent his investigation being funded by the state’s coffers. Also, once Steward grants him the Gondor trait, he can receive Visionary Leadership, which will significantly boost willpower across the board. Of course, he’ll receive Sword that was Broken, which will give Aragorn the Leadership icon. With these two attachments, he will be able to give almost everyone a +2 willpower boost. Perfect, since you can potentially get location locked in this quest.
Also, I needed some reliable way to draw cards, and in testing, often found myself with too many resources and not enough to spend them on. So, I added Rod of the Steward as a late addition, which will allow him to spend those excess resources on drawing cards. Finally, the only other major attachment in the deck for Aragorn is Unexpected Courage, as he will primarily serve as an attacker, and it will be helpful for him to be able to attach more than one enemy every combat.
Returning to the series is Leadership Denethor. I not only selected him for thematic reasons, but also because his ability to start the game with 3 resources is a clutch means of acceleration from turn one. Those resources will either be used to play Steward of Gondor or Sword That Was Broken on Aragorn. Ideally, Aragorn gets the Sword and Steward quickly, within the first two turns, hopefully. He also comes in handy by passing resources to my other two heroes, once Aragorn has the Steward of Gondor attached.
Denethor is also serving as my primary defender. His 3 defense is a great starting point and will usually stand up just fine against most enemies in the encounter deck. However, just for the heck of it, I’ve including one copy of Ancestral Armor for him, which will boost his defense and hit points by 2, giving him a 5 defense with 5 hit points. Also, if I get Arwen Undomiel in play for a while, she will select Denethor with her ability to have him defending for 4, or 6 with the armor.
New to the series, and new to the game as well, is the Gondor hero Lothiriel. She is a great addition to the Gondor theme, as she is a powerful questing hero, provides Spirit access, and has a neat ability to drop allies into play for questing. With some of the new Gondor allies, and a few of the old ones, too, this allows you to use those ally abilities without having to pay for them outright. However, they do go away at the end of the phase, so that’s the trade-off.
Lothiriel won’t be receiving any attachments, simply because she won’t do anything but quest and bring in allies. Her Spirit resources are vital for cards like A Test of Will, Unexpected Courage, and several others. So she strongly fulfills the support role in the deck by paying for cancellation, some card draw with Ancient Mathom, and some allies like Arwen and Knight of Belfalas.
Like most Gondor decks, this is primarily a swarm deck. So there are a lot of allies, and all have the Gondor trait, except for Arwen. The aforementioned Knight of Belfalas is a newer card to the game, and has a great ability to bring back Gondor allies from the discard pile. This is a great ally to drop in with Lothiriel in case my Warden of Healing has recently died. Also, the new Soldier of Gondor accelerates the ally swarm by finding a Gondor ally in the top 5 cards of your deck and adding it to you hand. Faramir is of course a perfect ally for Gondor swarms, and can boost willpower by a lot, but with Aragorn’s attachments, he can also just quest for 4, or defend with a 2 defense. The Knight of the White Tower is a powerful ally, but costly. He can quest for 4, but also has a great 3 defense, for an ally.
Some of the more utility players in the ally group are the Envoy of Pelargir, which will allow me to give a resource to someone, which is great when bringing her in with Lothiriel. She enters play for free, hands out a resource, and with Aragorn’s attachments, quests for 3 willpower. Also, the Ithilien Lookout is a late splash ally, simply to potentially avoid enemies. I will drop him in with Lothiriel, or late game, just play him with Aragorn, since he has a solid attack.
Opening Hand and Strategy
There are a few priorities for my opening hand in this deck: 1) Steward of Gondor; 2) some form of card draw; and, 3) allies. For my deck to really work in the long run, Steward is crucial on turn one, because it grants Aragorn the Gondor trait. I can get around not getting the extra resources from it, but Aragorn having the Gondor trait enables him to receive Visionary Leadership, and Rod of the Steward. It also allows him to be the recipient of Denethor’s resource ability.
Some form of card draw is really necessary, too, as I will quickly run out of my hand with Lothiriel’s ability, if I have a lot of allies but no natural draw. Daeron’s Runes, Heed the Dream, Ancient Mathom, and Rod of the Steward are all acceptable forms of draw to see in my opening hand. The Soldier of Gondor is a good ally to start with, too, since he kind of draws another card after he enters play. Sword That Was Broken is also nice to enable Aragorn to have the Leadership icon.
As for strategy, I want to clear the first location, The Fourth Star, in one or two turns, otherwise I risk getting location locked. The locations in the encounter deck are all high threat, or surge. So it is tough to get more than 2 built up in the staging area. But, with Aragorn’s threat ability, and some copies of The Galadhrim’s Greeting, I can afford to slow down as I go. Getting a lot of allies in play is the goal, as it makes my willpower very high, and gives me the attack numbers I need.
For Lothiriel, the ideal allies to drop in are Envoy of Pelargir, Ithilien Lookout, and in some cases, the Soldier of Gondor and Knight of Belfalas. I primarily like to actually play these allies, unless there is a situation that calls for them entering play for free, such as having no resources to play them, but having an ally in my discard to bring back with the Knight of Belfalas. It can also be a good way to sneak in a Knight of the White Tower without having to pay that steep cost. If I draw multiple copies of Faramir or Arwen, and haven’t played one yet, I can cycle those extra copies by using Lothiriel’s ability.
The quest has a few objectives in the Underworld deck. Some place resources on the quest cards, which is how those stages advance, and some place progress on locations. I prefer to use the ones that place resources on the 2nd quest stage. This is especially helpful to get to the villain quickly, if I have no other enemies in play.
To handle the plot cards, I’ve already covered how I plan to handle Poisoned Counsels. For Up in Flames, I’ve included one copy of Will of the West, to recycle by discard pile into my deck to avoid losing by decking out. However, this can backfire if the plot discards my one copy. Then, it’s a race to the finish, or an automatic loss. My sheer willpower numbers help counter the Unholy Alliance plot by overcoming the threat added by the extra encounter card.